Picture the life you dreamed of living. Now open your eyes. Take a good look around you. How’s the view? Do you like what you see? Are you living the life you pictured for yourself? Or are you still dreaming of something even bigger? Those were some of the questions that helped me realize that it only takes one person, one action, one moment to change your life forever, to change your perspective, to color your thinking. To be forced to re-evaluate everything you think you know. To make yourself ask one the toughest questions: do you fall back on what you know, or do you step forward to something new? Easier said than done, at some point, I had to make a decision. And so, here’s my story.
Ever since I was a child, for better or for worse, I knew I wanted to be a teacher some day. I was lucky enough to get my diploma and start working right away. I spent ten years as an in-classroom English teacher at two of the best bilingual elementary schools in my country. I would teach all subjects of the American Curriculum to an average of 30 children ages 7 to 10. Those have always been my favorite grades to teach: 1st, 2nd and 3rd.. I think it is because almost everything is new to them. And as hard as teaching can be, that moment when you look at your students faces and they give you their biggest smile because they finally understand a lesson, or realize they have discovered something new to them, cannot be matched to anything. Add all the fun of singing, dancing and playing, and you will have moments of heaven of Earth. You will feel like a kid all over again everyday. Of course, there are times when the job can be overwhelming. Every student has a different pace of learning. Some of them are just shy or lazy, but some others have real pathologies like ADD, ADHD or even Asperger. Therefore, knowing how to deal with that on a daily basis doesn’t really make you a better teacher, but a better human being. So yes, to actually be a teacher nowadays has nothing to do with what you pictured as a child. Things change. And as teachers, we have to understand we live in a world of constant progress and forward motion. Stand still for a second, and you’ll be left behind. But most important, you will also leave your students behind. Truth to be said, those kids rely on you, they trust you. Yet luckily, they do believe you have all the answers. So in order to step in, you have to find them. You own them at least that much.
However, even when it comes with the job sometimes, giving them the best care you can provide is not always as dramatic as how to heal a deep cut they got on recess while playing soccer, or how to control a meltdown episode. It is about providing them tools to make them better individuals in the future, both personally and academically. After ten years, you could assume you in fact have all the answers on how to help your students achieve those goals. You have a plan that works and you stick to it. You know how to plan your lessons, how to teach them, what methodology is the most suitable and how to evaluate the results. If on top of that you are making a living to pay your bills and the work schedule allows you some extra time to share with friends and family, it does not sound like a bad plan at all. The thing about plans is they don’t take into account the unexpected, and that is when you surely ask for second opinions. Most people would advise to write a list of pros and cons. And I am going to take a minute here to summarize mine. I am already 34 years old, I have a stable job that I love, I have time to share with my loved ones, so for the most part, I have a good life. On the other hand, I feel I am caught in a comfort zone, a routine, and I feel there should be more to it, without having to give up those things that make me who I am. Those things that make me happy and that I have worked hard my whole life to have. As any teacher would do, I started to look for answers, and that is when I found the TEFL website.
I am not going to lie, my face lit up just like my student’s faces used to when they earned free time! I remember reading all of the comments on the TEFL blog, just like you are reading mine now, and I would picture those people’s experiences. All of them seemed to do beyond well. They were trying new food, travelling to new places, meeting new people. They were all making a living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, sharing new experiences and creating memories that are priceless. I thought to myself what it would have be like for me living such a life experience right after college. It wouldn’t really make sense to try it now at my age, would it? After being a teacher for ten years, what’s the point on being a student again? I had a life and a plan that worked, right? Well, that’s the thing about human beings. We don’t like change, we fear it. We spend our whole lives worrying about the future, planning for the future, trying to predict the future, as if figuring it out will cushion the blow. But the future is always changing and the truth is we can’t stop it from coming. And no matter how high the stakes, sooner or later you’re just gonna have to go with your instincts. So I finally found the courage and wrote an email asking for information. To my surprise, few hours later I got a reply from Erwin answering every single question and offering to chat on Skype to guide me through the process. I still remember that conversation. It was the first time I realized what a wonderful teacher he is. Both the teacher I would like to have and get to be someday.
Long story short, (I know it hasn’t been short, but I’m a teacher, teachers talk!) Anyways, I moved to Barcelona with a new plan: to learn and enjoy just as much as my students would. I didn’t take anything for granted. Every teacher I was blessed to have during my TEFL course really changed me for the best. They are always there for you, they really care about your progress and they always find time to give you that extra something to make you feel like you are their favorite student. Beyond that, they are truly flawless professionals and outstanding human beings. That is something you will not find easily. The group of students was simply fantastic! There were people of all ages from all over the world. You wouldn’t find enough time in this life to hear about their experiences, but it would only take you one minute to realize how much you had in common. At the end of the day, regardless of age or culture, we were all there for the same reason. Those details didn’t really matter. People like me who had taught before would share their knowledge, and those who hadn’t were full of questions and eager to learn from you. Therefore, and without any single regret, I am proud to say that was my first lesson: that boundaries don’t keep other people out, they fence you in. If you open yourself to the world, there’s no limit on how things can change, for the best. Just two days before finishing the TEFL course, one of the teachers got me a job interview. I still didn’t know the city that well, but he explained me how to take the train there. I remember I was simply amazed by the views and spent the whole ride thinking about the best way to answer every question you might expect on an interview. But sometimes expectations sell us short. Sometimes the expected simply pales in comparison to the unexpected. Right from the beginning I felt welcome. They wanted to know me as a teacher, but most important as a real person. We talked over coffee like we were old friends just catching up. They showed me the academy, they showed me the schedule, they told me exactly what my responsibilities would be, and that same day, unexpectedly, I had a job. I had the job I once dreamed of having here, starting that next Monday. I guess I didn’t really have time to understand it was real. I would be teaching again not only to children, but teens, and adults, and business and Cambridge and certifications preparations. Every day I take the train to work in the afternoon and come back home at night. I start with the youngest children which are learning the alphabet, the numbers, the colors, and I end the classes having the best conversations with the adults about jobs and real life topics. I can tell you, those hours fly!
So yes, that kind of teaching surely tests my knowledge in a whole different level! And everyday I realize how having taken the TEFL course has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have put into practice everything they taught me, as a teacher and as a student. And even when I could spend hours talking about how beautiful the TEFL building is, how many facilities they provide you with so you achieve your best, how unbelievable and complete the content of the course is, it is just going to sell short until you live that experience yourself. Instead, I would rather share a single detail that really changed my perspective as a teacher. Whether for children or adults, I learned that in order to get students attention, every good lesson starts with a game, an engage. And today I am going to quote Stanley Ellin’s words on Chess. He once said “the way a man plays Chess demonstrates its whole nature”. Maybe because, like in Chess, life is made up of choices. Sometimes you chose to be brave and push forward, some others you turn back and retreat, and once in a while you just stand still and watch the world pass you by. But the truth is in life you don’t always have time to think what your next move will be. You just have to hope that when it’s your turn, you’ll know what to do, how to cope, how to persevere. For unlike Chess, the laws of life do not permit a free choice: you have to move, whether you like it or not.
I am happy I chose to move. Literally. I got my TEFL certification, I have a job as a teacher, I live near the beach, I have made new friends and my life is no longer good, it is amazing. So after careful consideration and many sleepless nights, here’s what I’ve decided. Change is constant. How we experience change, that’s up to us. But if you’re willing to throw caution to the wind and take a chance, the view from the other side is spectacular. And after all, isn’t that what you’d rather to hear about if you’ve got one drink, one friend and 45 minutes? Slow rides make for boring stories. A new life? Now that’s worth talking about. And I can’t wait to hear yours soon.
By Nannette Robles